And in what could be the biggest embarrassment for college sports since SMU received the "death penalty," shutting down a sports program for a season or more, the NCAA is investigating claims by a former University of Miami booster and convicted Ponzi scheme artist that he provided Hurricanes players with cash, prostitutes, cars and other gifts from 2002 to 2010, and that several coaches knew and even participated as improper benefits were handed out.
"There's no question it's at a crossroads, and I've been saying that for a long time," NCAA president Mark Emmert said last month. "That's why we need to act and why we need to act quickly. But again, I think, it's a case of all the great things in college sports being overshadowed by these high-profile infractions cases, and that's something we have to fix."
Critics have long dismissed the NCAA enforcement process as ineffective, blaming its reactionary nature and lack of impartiality. The NCAA doesn't have its own detective bureau, relying on schools to report themselves or for others, most often the media, to provide information on wrongdoing.
Once the enforcement staff determines possible violations, the case is forwarded to the Committee on Infractions, which includes seven representatives from member schools and conferences as well as three members of the public. The committee makes the final determination on violations, including what the penalties should be.
"Obviously the NCAA is very stretched trying to manage all this," said former U.S. Congressman Tom McMillen, who led Maryland to the 1972 NIT title and has been a longtime critic of the NCAA enforcement process. "Clearly, we need some more independence, we need some tougher penalties directly on the perpetrators. But ultimately, it's a finger in the dike."
There's so much money at stake, McMillen said, and the incentives to cheat currently outweigh the punishments.
"The system needs revolutionary change," he said. "I don't think there's a stomach for it until there's major crisis. ... You need to have a tipping point and we're not at a tipping point."
It may be close, however.
NCAA leaders signaled at last month's presidential retreat that they were ready to adopt harsher penalties for the worst offenders — something infractions committee members recommended back in 2008. Among the possibilities are making greater use of postseason and TV bans, punishments that were the norm in the 1980s but have become rarities over the past decade.
Emmert even said the "death penalty," only used that one time against SMU, is still a possibility in the most egregious cases.
"If there was a general theme ... it was, 'Let's strengthen penalties and get the attention of people,'" said Parkinson, who chaired the subcommittee that made the recommendations.
"But there's not going to be a huge movement until that message is sent from the membership and leadership of the NCAA," Parkinson said. "If the message comes up from the membership to the Committee on Infractions that they've got to toughen up and there's a clear signal, the committee will do that."
In the meantime, if the pain and humiliation being felt at elite schools like USC, Ohio State and Tennessee keep everyone else on their best behavior, well, that won't be the worst thing in the world.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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